Category Archives: Schools

The Silent Bell

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Bell manufactured by Meneely’s Foundry, West Troy, New York. Undated object held in the collection of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

A few months ago, I published a lengthy post on the Seminary, a school first founded in 1849 for the young women of Wellington. While conducting research for that essay, I ran across the following quote: “[Miss Eliza Hamilton] sold the building to the village which moved it to 112 Adams Street where it was converted into a residence…The school bell was removed and placed in the union school building on South Main Street built in 1867-68. Years later it was given to the ‘Spirit of ’76’ Museum” (Henes, Historic Wellington Then and Now, pg. 11-12).

This little anecdote about a bell that allegedly came from the Seminary remained in the back of my mind. Yesterday, I had occasion to visit the ‘Spirit of ’76’ Museum. They have recently put together a nice exhibition related to Wellington’s schools, commemorating the demolition of McCormick Middle School–formerly the Union School mentioned in the quote above. And there, prominently displayed, is a lovely bronze bell.

The bowl of the bell is encircled with the words “Meneely’s Foundry, West Troy, N.Y.” There is no date indicated. The overall object is about 31″ high (to the top of the metal wheel) and the mouth of the bell is 18″ in diameter. The entire apparatus is mounted on a wooden frame that appears to be original, though with a few replacement nuts and bolts.

As it happens, Meneely is a very well-known name in the world of bell manufacturing. The company was founded in 1826 by Andrew Meneely in West Troy, New York (today called Watervliet). It is likely no accident that Meneely chose to start such a business in a town that sat on the newly opened Erie Canal; bells can be extremely heavy objects and the convenience of moving them by water and then rail is mentioned in Meneely catalogs late into the nineteenth-century. The Meneely Foundry is sometimes referred to as the first or oldest bell manufacturer in the United States, but it would be more accurate to say that it was the oldest continuously-operating bell foundry when it closed its doors in 1951.

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“A View of the Erie Canal at West Troy.”

Andrew Meneely ran the foundry until his death in 1851. His two oldest sons took over the business and operated it as Andrew Meneely’s Sons until 1863, when they felt confident enough of their own reputations to change the name once again to E.A. & G.R. Meneely. A younger brother founded his own competing bell foundry in adjacent Troy, New York, and the two older brothers sued to block his use of the family name. Their efforts were not ultimately successful, but left some very interesting reading in the form of court proceedings. Both Meneely bell companies remained in family hands and the two are said to have produced more than 65,000 bells over the course of their operations. Meneely catalogs can still be found in special collections departments, particularly in New York libraries. I was fortunate to find one from 1876 digitized.

In the court proceedings of “Meneely v. Meneely,” it is noted that plaintiffs E.A. & G.R. Meneely “have cast upon the bells manufactured by them…’Meneelys[‘], West Troy, N.Y.'” (New York Supreme Court Reports, 1874, Vol 3. pg. 544). Illustrations from the 1876 catalog confirm the same specific wording, which grammatically indicates more than one Meneely in the business. Remember, though, that the bell in the museum reads, “Meneely’s Foundry,” which grammatically indicates a single owner. Anecdotal evidence, in the form of a small sample of dated bells across the country, suggests that the museum’s singular wording was most commonly used on bells dating ca. 1850.

Meneely's catalog 1876 pg. 9

Illustration from “Meneely & company, bell-founders, West Troy, N.Y….” (1876) pg. 9. This type of bell is described as ideal for academies, i.e. schools. It not only has a rope over the wheel for easier ringing, but also a “Rotary Yoke, which permits the bell to be turned in a moment so as to cause the clapper to strike in a new place when desired” and not wear out the bell metal too quickly.

It is worth noting that this was not the only Meneely bell in Wellington. In 1879, when the Congregational Church was dedicated, The Wellington Enterprise ran a detailed budget of its construction expenses. Included in the account was “Bell-Menerly & Kimberly, Troy, N.Y.” The bell was grouped in a line item with the organ and unspecified “furnishing” totaling $4,150 (4/10/1879, pg. 2). This bell was produced by the rival manufacturing firm of Meneely & Kimberly, founded in 1870 by younger brother Clinton Meneely, defendant in the 1874-75 litigation mentioned above. The 1876 Congregational Church burned down just two decades later; I do not know the fate of the bell. If it survived the fire, it is quite possibly hanging on South Main Street to this day.

So what do we know? The Seminary was founded in 1849. It was sold by Eliza Hamilton to the village in 1864, but remained in use as a public primary school until it was sold (and ultimately became a private residence) in 1876. That would seem the logical point at which a school bell might have transferred to the relatively new Union School, completed in late 1867. Unfortunately, we have no known documentary evidence nor any photographs of Eliza Hamilton’s school that might confirm the presence of the bell on its grounds. The object itself has no date, though preliminary anecdotal evidence suggests it was manufactured ca. 1850. For now, at least, the bell remains tantalizingly silent.

To see twentieth-century film footage of Meneely bell production, visit: part one and part two.

UPDATE: Apparently Wellington is chock full of Meneely bells! As I was driving by the Town Hall this morning, I suddenly had an “Ah ha!” moment. Sure enough, upon closer inspection I discovered that the large bell mounted in front of that building is also a Meneely bell…and it is dated! Around the bowl is cast the inscription, “Meneelys Bell Foundry West Troy, N.Y. 1847.” I wonder how many more we might discover if we peeked into the belfries of some local churches?

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1847 Meneely bell mounted in front of Wellington’s Town Hall. Photo by author.

 

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Recent Acquisitions II

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Postcard image showing the “Public and High School,” first called the Union School and later incorporated into McCormick Middle School. Postmarked [December] 1913. Author’s collection.

I first did a post like this almost exactly one year ago. Since that time, my modest collection of Wellington-related documents and images has expanded to include a few small objects. My thoughts of late have been dominated by the demolition of the former Union School on April 5th. I live within walking distance of the site, and so have observed the debris removal daily. The lot is now nearly completely empty. Amazing to think that the process took less than two weeks start to finish.

While the building was being dismantled, I did a small project to record the window and door placements on the original 1867 Italianate structure. Since the architectural evidence was incomplete due to many additions and renovations over the decades, I began to look for historic images of the building from as many cardinal directions as possible. The 3.5 by 5.25 inch postcard above is a close, clear shot of the west facade, formerly facing South Main Street. Though it is hand-dated “12/27/3” in pencil, this appears to be a small human error, as it is clearly postmarked 1913, and the color and style of the card seem to confirm the later date.

The company managing the demolition process began by removing a section of bricks from the east facade of the Union School, and making them available to the public as keepsakes. Tiny fragments of Wellington’s nineteenth-century past have no doubt made their way across the country by this point, if the numerous requests I saw posted to social media are any indication. One of them is currently on display in my dining room.

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Bin full of Union School bricks, manufactured circa 1867, available to the public as souvenirs. Image taken March 24, 2016. Photo by author.

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Brick from the 1867 Union School, demolished April 5, 2016. Author’s collection.

The final object I want to highlight is actually from the twentieth century. In August 1901, Wellington hosted a massive celebration it called “Home Week,” to coincide with the annual fair. Former residents from around the United States returned to Ohio. The Wellington Enterprise printed numerous articles on the history of the town and notable buildings in the weeks prior, culminating in a special commemorative issue that included pieces such as a list of all the registered attendees, and biographical sketches of all the pioneer women of the town. Home Week has always been a subject of interest to me because of its own focus on the village’s founding and early days, and because so many of its most honored participants were the people I have been writing about in this blog for nearly three years. So you can imagine how delighted I was to acquire this unusual object:

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Obverse and reverse of a souvenir badge from Wellington’s Home Week, 1901. Author’s collection.

The badge, which measures two inches in diameter, appears to be made of coated paper adhered to a cardboard backing, rimmed with metal. A straight pin is twisted through a slot in the badge, but it is not immediately apparent (at least to me!) whether the pin was the original securing mechanism; it seems neither long enough nor heavy enough to attach the badge to cloth. The badge is surprisingly heavy and the surface colors remain vibrant more than a century after its manufacture. If you happen to visit the Lorain County Fair this August, and you see fair goers wearing souvenir hats, pins or t-shirts, stop for a moment and imagine those same objects in a museum case one hundred years from now. I’ve written it before: history is today. Remember that while you are living it.

The End is Near

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The old Union School, the core of McCormick Middle School. Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Just a brief update to any interested readers outside the area…demolition of Wellington’s McCormick Middle School, which at its core is the 1867 Union School, has begun. All interior modern wallboard and ceiling materials have been removed, stripping much of the building down to its original brick walls. I would direct anyone interested in seeing more photographs to visit the Facebook page Memory Lane, Wellington, OH. That page’s moderator was able to gain access to the construction site and has been posting terrific images, including shots of the recently uncovered nineteenth-century staircase. I also posted a few earlier pictures of the building here.

I will update this post with an additional image or two as the process moves forward.

UPDATE: Demolition has now begun in earnest. I took this picture today, Friday, March 25th, 2016. I expect within the next week the building will be gone, just shy of its 150th construction anniversary.

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Demolition commencing on the old Union School, the core of McCormick Middle School. Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

The Seminary

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Detail of “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil. 1857.” Original object in private collection. Photo by author.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to examine a magnificent hanging school map. The massive, brightly colored object is sixty inches long by fifty inches wide, and depicts all of Lorain County in the mid-nineteenth century. In the upper right corner is a tiny inset, just eight by eight inches at its widest points, showing the young village of Wellington. When I first saw this oversized map, my family owned a house on North Main Street, so my eye was drawn to that area of town. There, in the block just south of my future home, was written in letters less than one-quarter of an inch wide the notation “Semy.”

The first association that came to mind was of course the word “seminary.” But I had never heard of any sort of religious preparatory school in Wellington, no institution dedicated to training future priests, ministers or rabbis, which is the modern usage of that term. What was this mid-century seminary? Whom did it teach? Whom did it employee? What I have come to discover is that the story of the Wellington Seminary is the story of two Wellington women, who founded it and ran it for fifteen years.

Mary Ann Adams was born in Otis, Massachusetts in 1816. She was the youngest of thirteen children; her parents, Amos (1766-1836) and Huldah Wright Adams (1772-1840), celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary a few months after her birth. The Adams family left western Massachusetts around 1821, and by 1823 had settled in a wilderness area soon to be named Wellington, Ohio. Mary Ann was just seven years old as her father and older brothers set to felling trees and cultivating land for several family farms in what is now the northeast quadrant of the town.

A decade later and ten miles north, the Oberlin Collegiate Institute opened its doors. December 1833 saw the first classes held for what would eventually become Oberlin College. Mary Ann Adams was one of the first females in the new institute; her name appears on an 1834 list of students certifying their views regarding admitting people of color to the school. (Adams, as did more than half the student body, voted against admittance.)

Ladies Hall 1835-1865

Ladies’ Hall, home of the Ladies’ Department of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute (after 1850, Oberlin College) from 1835 to 1865. This wood frame structure stood on the south side of College Street, facing Tappan Square. Today that area is an access road between the Oberlin College bookstore and Bibbins Hall, home of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. From “General Catalogue of Oberlin College, 1833-1908,” pg. int. 71.

Though Oberlin did accept both male and female students from its inception, initially only male students could pursue the “classics course” and receive a bachelor’s degree. In its earliest days, Oberlin’s female scholars were expected to follow the “ladies’ course” which did not result in a degree. Adams pursued the ladies’ course, which took five years of study (including preparatory work), and finished in 1839. It was not until 1841 that the first three female students elected to complete the more rigorous classics course, and were awarded bachelor’s degrees. By that time, Adams was serving as Assistant Principal of the Ladies’ Department. She would hold that position for three years, before being named Principal for seven more, beginning in 1842. All told, Mary Ann Adams would be a key figure in the Ladies’ Department of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute for its first, formative fifteen years.

In her history of coeducation at Oberlin, Father Shipherd’s Magna Charta (1937), Frances Juliette Hosford describes the Ladies’ Board, a small group of women who governed the actions of all females admitted to the institute in its earliest days. Hosford points out that there were no college-educated women in the country at that time. The Ladies’ Board was instead comprised of the wives of college officials and prominent Oberlin community members. The group was socially very conservative and operated independently of the faculty, reporting only to Oberlin’s trustees. As a result, Hosford argues, it became “a law unto itself” and operated in “a star chamber atmosphere” (pg. 27).

Adams seems to have come into conflict with the Ladies’ Board repeatedly over her tenure. The precise nature of the conflict is not always clear, but there are tantalizing clues left in letters from students that can still be read in the Oberlin College Archive today. Antoinette Brown, one of Oberlin’s most distinguished alumnae, thought very highly of Miss Adams, and mentioned her frequently in letters to friends. Only once did she ever describe discord between them, when in 1847 Adams arranged for Brown to earn extra money by teaching additional classes, but “the Ladies Board disarranged everything” because they disapproved of Brown wanting to study theology with male students and become a minister (quoted in Lasser, Soul Mates, pg. 22). Brown continued to admire Adams even after the trouble, noting her “firmness & dignity of charac[ter]” in another letter weeks later (ibid., pg. 29).

Years of conflict with the Ladies’ Board and ongoing poor health eventually caused Adams to resign in early 1849. Antoinette Brown opined, “I feel as though I had lost a good friend tried and true” (ibid., pg. 48). Adams returned to Wellington, moving into her older brother Gideon’s brick house on what is today North Main Street. Gideon (1809-1875) and wife Bertia Hull Slocum Adams (1812-1880) had seven children, the youngest of which were then a set of infant twins. Mary Ann Adams, nearing thirty-five years of age and used to an independent life, must have immediately concocted a plan of self-employment. In later published accounts–described in more detail below–1849 is universally agreed upon as the year that Mary Ann Adams, using land and a building belonging to her brother, opened the Wellington Seminary.

Gideon Wright Adams

Gideon Wright Adams (1809-1875), older brother of Mary Ann Adams.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the term “seminary” referred to a private educational facility, often exclusively for women. They began to open across the Midwest in the 1830s, as educationally-minded New Englanders emigrated and settled there (Woody, Women’s Education in the United States, pg. 366-368). These were not schools focused solely on religious education, in the modern sense of the term. Adams did refer to the Oberlin Ladies’ Department as “our Seminary, a Literary & Religious association” (Fletcher Papers, B. 7, F. 3). Certainly in the nineteenth century, religion was a much more pervasive component of morally-focused education. But young women would not have attended the Wellington Seminary to prepare for a life of religious orders. And it is worth pointing out that while Adams was a devout Congregationalist, the woman to whom she eventually turned the seminary over was an equally devout Methodist.

It is curious that Adams’ name remains the one most strongly associated with the Wellington Seminary in all subsequent published histories. She did found the school sometime in 1849, but by September 1850 she relinquished it to marry an Oberlin student seven years her junior, Charles Conkling of Leroy, Illinois. There is evidence of love, or at least attraction. A female student wrote in 1848, “Mis Adams & Conklin are ingaged & they court strongly & act just like fools–they cant be married in less than two years for he is only [a] junior” (Oberlin File, 21/1, II: Letters by Students, F. 8). Indeed, they did wait two more years before marrying at Gideon Adams’ Wellington home “in a most elegant style” described in some detail in yet another student letter (AMA Archives #104941). But whatever happiness the pair found together during their courtship did not last.

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Marriage announcement of Charles Conkling and Mary Ann Adams. “Oberlin Evangelist,” 9-11-1850, pg. 7.

Nine months almost to the day of the wedding, the couple’s first child was born. Alice Cowles Conkling was named in honor of Mary Ann’s predecessor as Principal of the Ladies’ Department, Alice Welch Cowles. Two more children, Charles Grandison (named for minister and Oberlin president Charles Grandison Finney) and Florence Perry, followed by 1859, when Mary Ann was forty-two years old. Husband Charles spent three more years studying theology at Oberlin, graduating in 1853. He began traveling out of state; for example, a newspaper notice directs correspondents to address him in western New York in 1854 (Oberlin Evangelist, 11-22-1854, pg. 7). It is unclear whether Mary Ann and the children accompanied him on these trips.

Then, in 1862, tragedy struck. In January, three-year-old Florence died. Ten weeks later, eight-year-old Charles also passed. Whether Mary Ann’s marriage was already beginning to unravel before this unimaginable loss, or the death of two of his children unhinged Charles Conkling, I do not know. But Mary Ann’s life became a nightmare. Two years later, the Congregational Church in Oberlin brought Conkling in to answer charges of cruelty, violence against his family, verbally abusive and violent actions against his boarders, and borrowing money with no intent to repay. Thirteen testimonies survive in the Oberlin College Archives describing a wife in feeble health, fearful for her surviving daughter’s safety, trying desperately to eke out a living and often “on the point of starving” (Records of the First and Second Congregational Church 31/4/1, B. 6). Conkling was characterized as a lazy ne’er do well who forced his wife to keep boarders, then stole her earnings and caused such regular unpleasantness that no one in Oberlin wanted to live in the household.

I do not know the immediate consequences of the church trial. The 1870 federal census shows only “Mary Conklin,” 55, living with daughter Alice, then nineteen and attending Oberlin College herself; she graduated in 1873. Mary Ann Adams Conkling died in 1871 and is buried in Oberlin’s Westwood Cemetery with her two younger children. Her oldest daughter seems to have left Ohio shortly after graduating, and later documents note her places of residence as including both Oklahoma and Texas. She does not seem to have ever married. Her abusive father, Charles Conkling, died in the Wayne County Infirmary, i.e. the Wooster poorhouse, in 1902. A newspaper report dismissed him as “a peripatetic lecturer and idler” (Western Christian Advocate, 6-4-1902, pg. 30).

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Headstone of Mary Ann Adams Conkling (1816-1871), Westwood Cemetery, Oberlin, Ohio. Her two youngest children are buried with her; their names are inscribed on the opposite side of the marker. Photo by author.

I promised that this was the story of two Wellington women, and in fact, the history of the Wellington Seminary lies mostly with the second. When Mary Ann Adams married in 1850, she transferred management of her new school to Elizabeth “Eliza” Hamilton. Eliza was the daughter of Asa (1799-1866) and Lydia Deland Hamilton (1804-1881). Asa was born in Vermont, Lydia in Massachusetts. By the early 1820s, the young couple was living in Sheridan, New York, and it is there that Eliza was born in 1824. Shortly after her birth, the family moved again to recently settled Wellington, Ohio.

Asa Hamilton was an interesting character. He served as a Lorain County Commissioner, postmaster of Wellington, and was an active Mason. (His headstone in Greenwood Cemetery is topped with the symbol of the Royal Arch masons, a triangle with three T’s joined at the base.) The 1850 federal census shows twelve people living in the household, including a number of young men working for Asa’s carpentry and joinery business. Eliza Hamilton, then twenty-five, had no profession listed. But that was soon to change.

Asa Hamilton grave

Headstone of Asa Hamilton (1799-1866), Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. The symbol atop the stone is that of the Royal Arch Masons. Hamilton was an active Mason, serving as Wellington’s representative to the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ohio in Massillon in 1857. Photo by author.

The Hamiltons and the Adams family were neighbors. Their properties in the northeast quadrant of the village abutted, precisely in the area where Adams and Hamilton Streets are today. Eliza and her mother, Lydia, are listed in Wellington Corporation tax records as owning multiple parcels of land, with multiple structures, in the block between what are now Hamilton and Clay Streets. When Mary Ann Adams decided (if the decision was hers) to relinquish control of the newly formed seminary, it may have seemed to Eliza Hamilton like an opportunity too good to be missed. In the 1860 federal census, her profession line was filled: “Supt [Superintendent] Wellington Seminary.”

It appears that Gideon Adams retained ownership of the land and building for some time. Only in 1860, a decade after she began running the school, do Eliza Hamilton’s taxes first include the half-acre in Lot 21 described as “C[orner] Mn & A[dams] St.” The parcel was valued for tax purposes at $260, confirming the presence of a structure. Hamilton owned the lot until 1864, when she sold it to the village to be incorporated into the public school system. It is struck through in her 1864 taxes and annotated “Wellington Union School Not Taxable.”

I have not been able to locate any primary documentation related to the school itself, whether a student roster or any materials related to the school’s curriculum. In every published instance save one that I have found, it is referred to as a seminary. (One 1861 notice, published in an Oberlin paper, called it the “Wellington Academy.”) It is noted as the “Female Seminary” and the “W.F. Seminary” (which I assume to be an abbreviation for “Wellington Female”) in two separate 1863 Lorain County News notices. However, I found a reference in a brief biographical sketch of Wellington resident Lucius E. Finch which noted that he left “the seminary taught by Miss Eliza Hamilton at Wellington” when he was sixteen, circa 1859. Another biographical sketch of Pittsfield resident Robert Merriam mentioned that he “received his education at the common schools and at the Wellington Seminary…” Since Merriam enrolled at Oberlin College in 1854, presumably his time at the Wellington school predated that year. There are newspaper references to another school, taught by Mary H. Ladd, called both the “select school” and once, the Wellington Seminary. But that school seems to post-date Merriam’s attendance by a decade, while Finch clearly indicates that he attended Hamilton’s school.

What are we to make of this? Was the Wellington Seminary exclusively for females under the guidance of Mary Ann Adams, coming as she was from a decade of female education? Did the school begin to accept young men when Hamilton took over? The evidence of the two male biographies would seem to support that theory. Why then was the school continually referred to as the Female Seminary, as late as 1863, shortly before it closed its doors? In the absence of further evidence, we may never know.

Wellington moved to reorganize its public school system during the Civil War. Asa Hamilton actually presented a remonstrance to the Ohio House of Representatives (via Sidney Warner) protesting the passage of a law authorizing the citizens of Wellington “to levy a tax to build a high school house in said village” (Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, Vol. 59, pg. 474-475). Whether Hamilton was working to protect his daughter’s economic interests, or just opposed taxation in general, is not clear. Regardless, his efforts failed, the tax levy was passed, and by 1867 the village had a modern, three-story brick Italianate housing its upper grades, the Union School. (Sadly, that very building is being demolished as I write this.)

The village purchased Eliza Hamilton’s land and building in 1864, and renamed it the North Primary School, i.e. what we might today call the elementary and middle school grade levels. (There was also a South Primary School on South Main Street, on the lot adjacent to my family’s current home.) That was the end of the fifteen-year history of the Wellington Seminary. Hamilton continued to teach, offering private classes in her own home. She remained in Wellington until nearly the end of her life, when she briefly moved closer to her brother in Pennsylvania. They died one month apart in 1877. Eliza’s remains were supposedly returned to Wellington and interred next to her father, Asa Hamilton, but there is no stone marking her grave.

Over the course of 1876 and 1877, The Wellington Enterprise published a series of short notices which, taken together, explain the fate of the 1849 seminary structure. Builder Hiram Allyn, who lived directly across from the school, purchased “the old North Primary School building” in April 1876. He moved it across the street onto a lot adjacent to his own house. He then renovated the structure and turned it into a residence. By May 1877, the paper noted, “The old seminary, now the new dwelling house, is further transformed by being painted a light drab, with dark brown trimmings; and blinds have been added. A new fence encloses the yard and lot…” (5-10-1877, pg. 3). I argued in a 2013 post, linked above, that the home which currently sits at 112 Adams Street is, at its core, the 1849 seminary. The village erected a small brick school house to replace the relocated wooden structure, which later became (old) St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, still standing on the lot today.

112 Adams Street

112 Adams Street, Wellington, Ohio. I believe this house contains the structure of the 1849 wood-frame Wellington Seminary, purchased and remodeled by Hiram Allyn in the 1870s.

The opening of Mary Ann Adams’ school in 1849 was first recorded in a published history just three decades later. The History of Lorain County, Ohio (1879) credited Gideon Adams with erecting the building, and characterized the operation as “academical” without officially naming it. The passage noted that Adams had experience in female education, without specifying the gender(s) of her Wellington students. In 1896, Adams was heroine-worshipped in Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve, depicted traveling valiantly “back and forth from Wellington to Oberlin on horseback when the mud and water was [sic] up to the stirrups.” It is mentioned in passing that she “taught a private school for young ladies in Wellington” (vol. 2, pg. 310).

In 1922, Mrs. W.B. (Carrie) Vischer restored Eliza Hamilton to her rightful place in the seminary narrative in her lecture and subsequent publication, “History of Wellington.” Interestingly, Vischer referred to the school as “The Academy,” so subsequent modern authors have followed suit and used that inaccurate name. Vischer dated the school to 1849, but erroneously attributed construction of the building to Mary Ann Adams’ father, Deacon Amos Adams, who in fact died in 1836. She described the school as private, but open to “the youth of Wellington” apparently irrespective of gender. Carrie Vischer was born in 1861, so it is possible that she knew Eliza Hamilton, though she would have been a young girl when the latter left Ohio. That having been said, Vischer sketched a charming, albeit simple, portrait: “Miss Hamilton was a very intelligent woman, and to attend her school the road to success was assured. Miss Hamilton was assistant superintendent of the Methodist Sunday school for many years, her father being one of the first members of the Methodist church. Miss Hamilton was unique in appearance, always attired in bloomers. Her reason was ‘she could accomplish her work with more ease and comfort while thus attired'” (pg. 5). Later local history enthusiasts Robert Walden and Ernst Henes clearly borrowed liberally from Vischer’s text, and both highlighted Hamilton’s unorthodox fashion choices.

I find both educators fascinating. They had many similarities beyond the enterprise they shared. Each woman was born in another state but spent her entire life in Lorain County. Adams remained unmarried until much later than her contemporaries; Hamilton chose never to go down the path that ended so disastrously for her neighbor. Both women had a long history of chronic health problems, which they struggled against while working for their own financial support. There is evidence that each assisted other women in her community, providing money and even a place to live within her own household. Mary Ann Adams’ obituary noted, “Her scanty salary was often in great part devoted to assisting struggling young ladies in achieving their education. Many of her pupils will remember her with gratitude, and thank God that they ever came under her influence” (Lorain County News, 4-27-1871, pg. 3). Hamilton’s lengthy tribute in The Wellington Enterprise, very likely written by co-editor Mary Hayes Houghton, suggested that “her sympathy for the helpless and unfortunate prompted her to unreasoning self-sacrifice for those whose lives she sought to make better and brighter. How little she demanded for herself. How generously she planned and unremittingly toiled for others” (11-15-1877, pg. 3)!

As with so many of the topics I have researched, this one only leaves me wanting to know more. What was daily instruction like in the Wellington Seminary and what topics were the young people learning? Were the students, in fact, all females in certain periods of the school’s existence? Did they board in the school building, as Oberlin’s female students boarded and studied in Ladies’ Hall? Does the fact that the school was described as “private” suggest that only the wealthier citizens of the village could afford to have their children attend? And what of Adams and Hamilton–did each woman enjoy teaching, or did she do it simply because it was one of the only occupations open to unmarried women in the mid-nineteenth century? Curiosity is the blessing and curse of the lover of history.

UPDATE: Within one day of publishing this post, I discovered that the Lorain County News (1860-1873) was finally digitized and publicly available. Since this topic was uppermost in my mind, I began searching for additional information about Mary Ann Adams Conkling. I found four notices that furnish new details about the story of her life. The first, dated weeks after her young son Charles died–the second child she had lost that year–announced her opening a private school “at her residence on the corner of Pleasant and Lorain Streets” (6-11-1862, pg. 2). Even in her grief, Mary Ann had to support her surviving daughter. In 1864, the same year her husband was brought before the Congregational Church to answer for his abusive behavior, a “Chas. Conklin” was listed among Oberlin men who volunteered to join a new company of the 41st O.V.I. regiment (4-13-1864, pg. 3). Three years later, “Rev. C. Conkling” was again mentioned in the paper and described as “of Ashland formerly of Oberlin” (3-6-1867, pg. 3). Why was Conkling no longer living with his family? Because his wife was about to divorce him. The divorce was granted in late 1869, with Mary Ann receiving the Oberlin house and lot, as well as $1,000 alimony. Charles Conkling was also ordered to pay all court costs. (1-5-1870, pg. 2). Mary Ann Adams secured her marital freedom after two decades; whether she ever actually received her $1,000 is, though highly unlikely, lost to history.

 

Farewell, Union School

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Back in January 2014, I wrote a post about the Union School, built in 1867. Over time, the stately brick Italianate was obscured behind multiple additions, and the overall structure is today known as McCormick Middle School. When I wrote that post nearly two years ago, plans were afoot to construct a new middle school and demolish this building. That plan has now come to fruition. The new building is complete on the north side of town, and the old one is due to be torn down by year’s end.

Today, the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, i.e. The Spirit of ’76 Museum, sponsored an open house at the school that they called, “The Last Lunch.” They opened the building up to the public for self-directed and guided tours, while serving a free final lunch to the community in the cafeteria. Tonight there is a farewell dance in the gymnasium. It was a wonderful event and the school was full of people, taking photographs of their former classrooms and reminiscing over childhood adventures.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

I am not a Wellington native and never attended McCormick. Instead, I was hunting for evidence of the nineteenth-century core of the complex. While the original Italianate structure is clearly identifiable on the exterior, there is virtually no evidence of it inside. All architectural details, including a central, curving wooden staircase, have been eradicated or hidden behind drop ceilings, drywall, and decades of paint.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Though the Italianate section of the building looks rather large from the outside, it is comprised of only two floors: the ground level is almost entirely filled by the cafeteria, and the second story has two large classrooms, with curving walls that proved impossible to effectively photograph. The central staircase was apparently entirely enclosed in stages over the course of the twentieth century due to fears of fire.

Former exterior wall of the Union School, now enclosed in the basement of a later addition. Photo by author.

Former exterior wall of the Union School, now enclosed in the basement of a later addition to McCormick Middle School. Photo by author.

McCormick Middle School is scheduled to come down in the next two to three months. For the first time since 1867, that plot of land on South Main Street will sit unoccupied. At about the same time, the new railroad underpass will open; for the first time since 1850, vehicles will move unobstructed by train traffic through the center of the village. It is the end of a Wellington era, in more ways than one.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

De-Camp

318 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

318 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

“One by one, these resourceful neighbors left their Huntington homes and built larger and varied Wellington homes. Practically all of these New England transplants were located on both sides of South Main Street in the southerly section of Wellington” (Frank Chapman Van Cleef, Ninety-Nine Bottles: Recollections and Episodes since 1896 Originating in Lorain County, Ohio, pg. 19.)

Several months back, I made my last post about our former home at 600 North Main Street. I mentioned that my family had purchased a new house, also in Wellington, and that I would eventually tell its story. Before I can do that, I must start by relating the tale of the house next door.

When we moved into our new place, we were told that the same person–a man by the name of Camp–had first built the large Victorian one lot north, then later built our house as a “retirement” property. A bit of research revealed that the truth is both more complicated, and also much more illustrative of the late-nineteenth-century history of the village.

Detail of Wellington Village map showing west side of South Main Street. From "Atlas of Lorain County, Ohio. 1874." Pg. 61. Photo by author.

Detail of Wellington Village map showing west side of South Main Street, between South and Fourth Streets. Note the shaded school shown on lot 25; this is the approximate location of 318 South Main Street today. From “Atlas of Lorain County, Ohio. 1874.” Pg. 61. Photo by author.

In 1878, Abel Dewey Perkins was a fifty-three-year-old Lorain County Commissioner living in Huntington. That winter, he sold his farm and determined to join the ongoing migration of Huntington residents to Wellington. But, The Wellington Enterprise reported, he was undecided as to whether he ought to build a new house or buy an existing one (2-28-1878, pg. 3). Perkins apparently opted to build, but must have secured interim accommodations for his family because he took his time about it.

Nearly two years later, the Wellington Board of Education auctioned off the South Primary school building and its land, located on the west side of South Main Street. Perkins purchased the property for $800, a figure later reported in the budget for the new addition to the Union School a few blocks north (the older school apparently being sold to finance expansion of the newer). At the same time, several of the lots surrounding the primary school were purchased by a man named O. P. Chapman. Chapman was an early partner in Horr, Warner & Co., a highly successful businessman, and also happened to be Abel Perkins’ only son-in-law. Oren and wife Ella were planning to relocate from Huntington as soon as the new family seat was completed.

Hiram Allyn, builder, finished the house he has been building for A. D. Perkins on South Main street. It is said to be one of the finest specimens of gothic architecture in town,” the Enterprise proclaimed in the spring of 1881. The very next issue informed readers that, “Mr. O. P. Chapman will move into Mr. A. Perkins’ house April 1st, the two families occupying it in common” (3-14-1883, pg. 3).

While the house was under construction, Chapman commissioned an enormous carriage house on his adjoining land. It was finished in May 1883. “O. P. Chapman has the best arranged and finest finished horse and stock barn on his place on South Main St. we ever saw. It will pay any admirer of good things to call and see it. He has also some very fine blooded stock, and is giving special attention to their growth and improvement” (Enterprise, 5-9-1883, pg. 3). The newspaper was not just being polite; the carriage house was so beautifully crafted and elaborately decorated that it had the same tax evaluation as Perkins’ three-story residence, namely $1,205. Even today, passers-by often mistake it for a Victorian home, though it still retains its original horse and cattle stalls.

O. P. Chapman's carriage house, originally built as part of the property for 318 South Main Street (now part of the parcel for 326 South Main Street). Photo by author.

O. P. Chapman’s carriage house. Originally built as part of the property for 318 South Main Street, it is now included in the parcel for 326 South Main Street. Photo by author.

In 1892, Abel Dewey Perkins died in his home of “apoplexy,” very likely what we would today term a stroke. Just five years later, his daughter Ella tragically drowned in a holiday boating accident; she was only forty-six. Abel’s widow, Mary, died in 1901. It is not hard to imagine how empty such a large house must have seemed in the face of so much personal loss. By 1906, Chapman was ready to move on, albeit not very far away. His nephew, Frank Chapman Van Cleef, later wrote, “After Uncle Oren’s tragic loss of Aunt Ella by drowning in his arms when their row boat capsized on a Lake Erie fishing trip, Grandma [Isobel Lindsey Chapman] and my parents spared no effort trying to alleviate his loneliness. When he sold his residential property, he made his headquarters in the second floor apartment Grandma had built directly over her own apartment. As housekeeping became more arduous for her, both she and Uncle Oren eventually prevailed upon my parents [Edward Anson and Josephine Esther Chapman Van Cleef] to move into the large upstairs bedroom” (Ninety-Nine Bottles, pgs. 32-33).

The house Van Cleef describes in that passage, in which he spent part of his own childhood, is a gorgeous brick Italianate that still stands today. It was erected by his maternal grandfather–yet another Huntington émigré–in 1876 and in his honor is still known as the John Austin Chapman house. So Oren Chapman moved from living communally with his wife’s family to living so with his own, by relocating just a hundred yards south.

344 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

344 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

March 14, 1906, an Enterprise front-page headline announced, “The O. P. Chapman Place Sold.” The three-paragraph article noted that Chapman had lived in “his handsome home on South Main street” for “some 23 years.” It described the house as “one of the best properties in town, and has a large and convenient barn, besides two or three acres of land.” F. M. Camp of Homer, Ohio was named as the purchaser, and a “well to do man.” The piece ended, “Rumor says [Chapman] got $9,000 for the property. It is cheap at that price and is the largest amount ever paid for residence property in this city.”

So, local legend notwithstanding, Fergus and Julia Camp did not move to Wellington until 1906, by which time the house at 318 South Main Street was already a quarter-century old. The adjacent carriage house had stood just as long, and was built by Oren Chapman, not by Camp for his racehorses, another myth. In my next post, I will write more about the Camps and about the house they actually did build, a lovely little Craftsman-style bungalow nestled amongst older and grander neighbors.

The Union School

"Main Building," from "Catalogue of Wellington Public Schools" (1899).

“Main Building,” from “Catalogue of Wellington Public Schools” (1899).

“THE SCHOOLS have from the beginning been the special pride of the town, and Wellington has always given its youth the best advantages for obtaining an education, which the circumstances of the people would permit, and now she sustains one of the best high schools to be found in the State” (The Wellington Enterprise, 6-5-1889, pg. 1).

On the very first page of the earliest surviving issue of The Wellington Enterprise–dated September 19, 1867–is an article about the new Union School house. It calls the construction of the school “prominent among the improvements on foot in Wellington” and describes in detail the proposed dimensions and amenities of the building. Stone was coming from “the Berea quarries” and local manufacturers Kirk, Bennett & Co. had won the masonry contract for digging the basement. More than 400,000 bricks were expected to comprise the finished structure, topped by a slate-covered mansard roof installed by the Cleveland firm of Towsend & Co.

There had been some controversy over where to locate the school. Two years earlier, the Lorain County News published a dispatch from Wellington correspondent J. B. Lang that revealed, “We understand that a location for the new Union School house has been decided upon, and the lot surveyed and taken possession of, against the wishes of the owner, Mrs. Howk, who we understand threatens to destroy anything they may place upon it. We are sorry that it was necessary to take that course on the part of the school directors, as we learn from conversing with the people, that Mrs. H. has many friends, who will embarrass and trouble the directors, if not entirely defeat their plans. All this will be attended with more or less expense, and have to be paid by those who feel as though they were already paying rent instead of taxes. Besides these reasons, it will create a disagreeable feeling among our citizens, which should, if possible, be avoided” (8-16-1865, pg. 3). “Mrs. H.” may refer to Theadocia Howk, early settler Alanson Howk’s widow; an 1874 map of the village shows that she owned more than forty acres of land that ran north-south from today’s East Herrick Avenue down almost to Pleasant Street, immediately east of the eventual school grounds.

Postcard image reprinted in Alan L. Leiby's "Memory Lane, Wellington, Ohio" (2012), pg. 30.

Postcard image reprinted in Alan L. Leiby’s “Memory Lane, Wellington, Ohio” (2012), pg. 30.

Little more than a decade later, an addition was already in the works. “The contract for building the new wing to the Union School building has been let to Mr. Black, for the sum of $5,795, which includes everything except furniture, furnishing and Kalsomining [i.e. whitewashing]. The contract for brick work is sub-let to Messrs. Bennett & Holmes, and the stone work to Mr. Richard Gibbons. It is to be completed and ready for occupancy Dec. 25th, 1879” (The Wellington Enterprise, 7-17-1879, pg. 3). The wing added four new rooms, each with a large adjoining closet. An 1880 editorial praised, “We do not hesitate to say that these are really the finest school rooms in the State of Ohio” (1-15-1880, pg. 3).

By 1885, a new steam heating system was installed in the school, the twenty-year-old furnaces having worn out from use. For $2,200, the Toledo firm of Shaw, Kendall & Co. put in a state-of-the-art system, which immediately reduced the heating costs of the building by some fifty percent, or $300 per year. Previously, very cold weather had sometimes resulted in the cancellation of classes, because the old furnaces were not capable of maintaining a reasonable temperature in all rooms. But the steam method resulted in “rooms [that] have been kept at a uniform temperature though the whole winter, all the while comfortable…This season there has been no complaint, and we may congratulate ourselves on having as cheap and perfect a system of heating as any school building in this section of the country” (4-1-1885, pg. 4).

"High School Building, Wellington, Ohio." Postcard printed in Germany for J. W. Houghton. Author's collection.

“High School Building, Wellington, Ohio.” Postcard printed in Germany for J. W. Houghton. Author’s collection.

The school sat in the center of several acres of green space (see image above) and public traffic across the grounds was an ongoing issue. In 1880, the Board of Education issued a notice that, “Parties living in the vicinity of the Union School grounds, who are accustomed to cross them on their way to and from town, are hereby notified it is unlawful and is strictly forbidden by the Board. Measures will be taken if necessary to enforce this requirement. It is hardly necessary to present a reason for forbidding pedestrians the use of the grounds for foot paths and we hope this notice will put an end to the practice of running over them” (4-22-1880, pg. 3).

It did not. Nine years later, a nearly identical notice was published in the paper. “Persons living on South Courtland street and on Carpenter street are requested not to cross the lawn in front of the school building, but to keep the walk. The path being made by such persons greatly mars the beauty of the lawn, which is not used as a play ground by any of the pupils. Those crossing the school grounds with delivery carts are also asked to keep the walks. It is hoped that no personal request will need to be made to those improperly using the school grounds in front of the building” (1-16-1889, pg. 5).

It was not until the twentieth century that the Union School was incorporated into a greatly expanded facility that served as a township high school. The stately Italianate was gradually swallowed up in 1916, 1938 and 1953 additions, which put an entirely different facade on the structure, as well as enhancements such as an auditorium and gymnasium. In the 1960s, a modern high school building was erected on North Main Street, and the “old high school” was redesignated as McCormick Middle School.

View from Courtland Street of the Union School, still visible within the structure of McCormick Middle School. Photo by author.

View from Courtland Street of the Union School, still visible within the structure of McCormick Middle School. Photo by author.

Sadly, the Union School is not long for the world. Plans are underway to construct a new middle school, adjacent to the 1960s high school on North Main Street. My understanding is that the present middle school is due to be demolished within the next few years and its grounds are to be turned into a public park. Having just written a post about the loss of the Opera House, I suppose it goes without saying that I already mourn the loss of yet another monument to Wellington’s past.